Photo: Sir Faulty / Steam

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

This weekend, I’ll be playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for a review that will come whenever it’s ready. We didn’t get an early copy of the game, nor did we attend any of Konami’s notorious review “boot camps” (I’ve heard they sequester you in a hotel, like a juror on a celebrity trial), so I’ll be playing the game as nature intended—starting on day one, with the online servers burning to the ground in front of me.

Fortunately for The Phantom Pain, the offline part of it does start in an arresting way. In my review of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, I lamented what seemed like the series giving up its love of the strange. The Phantom Pain obliterates that theory in its first hour, depicting a terrifying massacre where your only ally has a perpetually exposed butt crack. There is crouching butt crack; there is prone butt crack. Screams and gunshots permeate the air around it. But in the end, it is the guiding light that leads to safety.

So that’s something we can all appreciate. Beyond that, the early parts of the game are baffling. This is not like the previous four in almost any way, beyond its shared appreciation for bizarre humor. It does not play like them (although it does play like Ground Zeroes, last year’s short story bridge to The Phantom Pain). Its world is larger and less linear than those other ones, which also seems to have cost it some detail around the edges. And its tale has grown darker: Big Boss, the protagonist of the earliest games in the series’ timeline, has shed the last tatters of idealism and is out for nothing more than revenge. It’s known that he becomes the villain going into the series’ second half, and it has long been suspected that this game will depict that transition. The early going does nothing to bury that theory, although it doesn’t much push the story forward in a meaningful way either.

With all signs pointing to this being the last true Metal Gear game, the lead-up to The Phantom Pain has felt funereal, like a wake for the living. And for those who have kept up with its story—and the series has been telling the same one for 28 years now—it’s hard not to despair, regardless of how the game itself turns out. But I don’t think I feel that while playing, which I’m going to keep doing. It probably says something that I would be doing that whether I was reviewing it or not.

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